Malayalam Cinema in Canada’s Capital - New Canadian Media

Malayalam Cinema in Canada’s Capital

by Susan Korah (@waterlilypool) in Ottawa, Ontario For Mamta Mohandas and her colleague, Dileep, there is a stark difference between strolling down Elgin Street in…

by Susan Korah (@waterlilypool) in Ottawa, Ontario

For Mamta Mohandas and her colleague, Dileep, there is a stark difference between strolling down Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa and walking in the streets of Trivandrum, capital of the South Indian state of Kerala.

In Canada’s capital they could pass for any two Indo-Canadian residents of the city.

But in Trivandrum, both of them would be instantly recognized and mobbed by hordes of adoring fans in a frenzy of autograph hunting and photograph snapping. This is because they are A-list movie stars and celebrities in this part of the world.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Trivandrum is the centre of a well-established film industry that is quite distinct and separate from Bollywood.[/quote]

Trivandrum is the centre of a well-established film industry that is quite distinct and separate from Bollywood. The latter is located in Mumbai and produces movies in Hindi, one of India’s many languages.

The movies that Mamta (as she is popularly known) and Dileep (known by one name only) star in are in Malayalam, a regional language spoken in Kerala and wherever there are diaspora communities of Malayalis (as people of Kerala ancestry are called).

In Ottawa recently for a few days to shoot some scenes of a movie called Two Countries, the two Malayali celebrities found the lack of recognition a refreshing change.

But two Ottawa-based businessmen Biju George and Satish Gopalan hope this will change after the film is released in mid October and distributed in Canadian cities.

George and Gopalan are CEOs of Caneast Films, an Ottawa-based company that is co-producing the movie with Rajaputra Visual Media in Trivandrum.

A story set in two worlds 

Two Countries is a romantic comedy set in Canada and Kerala. While the actors are bilingual in Malayalam and English, most of the dialogue is in Malayalam with English subtitles. Canadian actors playing roles as local people speak in English.

The story line is fairly typical of the story of South Asian marriages. Dileep plays the role of Ullas, a man without particularly bright prospects in his native Kerala.

His fortunes appear to turn around when, in the typical manner of South Asian arranged marriages, he receives a proposal from the parents of Laya, (played by Mamta), a Malayali girl born and raised in Toronto.

The wedding takes place in Kerala, and then the couple fly back to Canada to begin their life together.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]The ensuing comedy unfolds when Ullas discovers that his Canadian-born wife is an alcoholic, and both suffer from culture shock as they try to negotiate the marital minefield created by their widely different backgrounds.[/quote]

The ensuing comedy unfolds when Ullas discovers that his Canadian-born wife is an alcoholic, and both suffer from culture shock as they try to negotiate the marital minefield created by their widely different backgrounds.

A divorce follows, but finally, in a happy ending the couple reunites when they realize during their time apart that they had been positive influences on each other.

While Ottawa was the main set location in Canada, some scenes and song-and dance sequences were filmed in Toronto, Montreal and Niagara Falls.

In a lunchtime interview with New Canadian Media on the last day of filming in Ottawa, Mamta said that while Malayalam movies may not have the bigger budget and the reach of their more flamboyant Bollywood Hindi language counterparts, they often have high-quality scripts that are emulated and adapted into other South Asian languages.

Having acted in 40 movies in her 10-year career, the 30-year-old actress said this is her fourth film with Dileep as her co-star, but the first with director Shafi (who also only goes by one name), and the first shot partly in Canada.

Born and raised in Bahrain and currently residing in Los Angeles, California, the multi-lingual artist said that this was her first visit to Canada.

“I love the European flair of both Montreal and Ottawa and love the old, historic buildings here,” she said. “People are very friendly, and seem to be more connected, more family-oriented than in Los Angeles.”

Nothing but ‘positive vibes’ in Canada

Film director Shafi, whose brother Rafi wrote the screenplay, was also full of praise for the positive interactions the entire film crew had with the Canadians they met and worked with.

“It’s beautiful here,” he said. “The people are very friendly and we’ve got very positive vibes from the local population, of Indian and non-Indian backgrounds.”

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]“Another aspect of this collaboration is that it offers both Canadians and Indians a great way of learning something about each other’s countries.” – Biju George[/quote]

“Filming here has been a great experience,” added make-up artist Pattanam Rasheed. “We’ve had such incredible support from local politicians such as Lisa MacLeod, MPP for Nepean-Carleton, Jim Watson, Mayor of Ottawa, and the mayors of all the other Canadian cities we filmed in – also from the Malayali communities in all these places.”

He pointed out that Two Countries is remarkable for the opportunities it has created for Indo-Canadian collaboration, with some roles such as those of a judge, a police officer, an English teacher and a stripper played by local actors. A few members of the technical crew were also recruited locally.

“Another aspect of this collaboration is that it offers both Canadians and Indians a great way of learning something about each other’s countries,” said George. “Malayali audiences who have never been to Canada will have a chance to see and admire the beauty of the Canada while Canadian viewers will discover Kerala, another tropical paradise.”

With five more days of filming left to do in Toronto and Niagara Falls, the film crew is preparing to wind up the Canadian part of the production.

“We have 25 days of filming to do in Kerala and then it’s editing and putting [on] finishing touches,” said production designer Nandu Poduval.

With the release scheduled for mid-October, Two Countries will have a Canadian premiere some time before that.

“Los Angeles is not too far from here, so I hope to come back to Canada for the premiere,” said Mamta, her face lighting up with a dazzling smile.

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Susan is an Ottawa-based journalist and a member of the NCM Collective.